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Aidan Baker, "Liminoid/Lifeforms"

cover imageUnlike previous solo efforts, here Baker is flanked by a concentrated orchestra, propelling his demur drones into consonant and complete compositions. The result is an album of staggering growth as Baker explores the elegant side of drone and the filth of classical percussion and strings that not only established Baker as an innovator but as a inventive curator of drone and its many variants.

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Aidan Baker - Liminoid / Lifeforms

Above all else, Liminoid/Lifeforms is a definitive statement. Baker clearly states his objective with the first few notes of “Liminoid Part I,” never wavering from his desire to capture the elements of classical and romantic composition with modern techniques. The result is an album that is warm; thick with texture and sonic craftsmanship. Albums with this much attention to detail often crumble under the weight of expectation but Baker has nothing to atone for once the final note of “Lifeforms” fades into the abyss.

The greatest accomplishment of Baker’s foray into the classical is in its simplicity. Much like the great masters of composition, Baker is never afraid to do too much by doing too little. Each of the four parts that comprise “Liminoid” joins seamlessly. Not until the soaring vocals of “Liminoid (Part IV)” can we begin to notice how Baker has carefully flirted with the grandiose by indulging it so completely. The subtle hints of cello and violin coupled with the restrained guitars and percussion are slow to reveal themselves as something more than Baker’s usual fare. “Liminoid (Part IV)” becomes the unveiling of Baker’s masterpiece; when the quiet decoration that has been painstakingly built for 22-minutes engulfs the classical philosophy in a fiery pillar of modern ingenuity. In spite of its ambitious nature, the whole of “Liminoid” does not falter for even a single note. This is proof that experimental music can be manipulated using the principles of Romanticism without compromising the chaos theory and fringe accessibility that has found deep roots in various genres.

After the breathtaking beauty of “Liminoid,” Baker risks toppling his opus with the sedentary drone of “Lifeforms.” Yet the risk is well worth it, providing the perfect counterpoint to elegance of “Liminoid” while also proving to be its mirror—albeit of the warped, funhouse variety. Where “Liminoid” was poised and polite, “Lifeforms” is a test of patience and will. It maintains the grace of its segmented lead-in but the restraint of “Liminoid” is replaced with rambunctiousness. “Lifeforms” isn’t abrasive but a piece built on dissonance and misplacement. Its parts, unlike “Liminoid,” are those of worn jigsaw puzzles; connections don’t fit as they should, the tabs are frayed beyond recognition, and there are holes from missing pieces. In this there is a majesty that admirers of “The Ugly Duckling” (and its ilk) will appreciate. “Lifeforms,” when held against “Liminoid,” will seem the tremorring visage; but as a mirror and a companion, it divulges the secrets of success found within “Liminoid,” while annihilating the measuring stick of beauty used for far too long.

The labeling of Liminoid/Lifeforms as a high form of art may be a bit of hyperbole but within Aidan Baker’s classical excursion, there are far too many gems of old and new to call it anything else. Over the course of one hour, Baker builds a sturdy bridge over a crevice that once relied on the likes of John Cage and Terry Riley as its architects. Old world beauty and futuristic tones can work as one, creating music that is as challenging as it is universal.

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Review of the Day

the sea and cake, "glass"
Thrill Jockey
Hot on the heels of this year's full-length release, One Bedroom, The Sea and Cake continue to indulge in their newfound electronic revelry with this seven-track EP. Glass, which clocks in at just over 37 minutes, is comprised of four non-album tracks and three remixes of songs from the album. Versions One and Two of "To the Author" carry the synth melodies one step further than similarly constructed tracks on One Bedroom. The tempo is noticably quicker than the usual Sea and Cake fare, and buzzing, spacious keyboards (which sound much like those used recently on their playful cover of David Bowie's "Sound and Vision") provide an excellent compliment to the processed guitars and Sam Prekop's bouncy vocals. "Traditional Wax Coin" goes in a slightly different direction with a chilled-out—even minimal—jazz infusion. "An Echo In," which is closest in style to their latest album, has nice melody and instrumentation, but ultimately suffers from flat, lukewarm vocals. The remixes are done by kindred indie spirits Stereolab and Broadcast (the latter of whom The Sea and Cake toured with in 2000), and Detroit technohead Carl Craig. Stereoab's "Tea and Cake" remix of "Hotel Tell" strips the original down to a lush, exotic lullabye, while Broadcast lend "Interiors" a heavy dose of their own tripped-out, psychedelia with loads of reverb and shards of synths. Craig's reworking of "Hotel Tell" turns the original into an ass-shakin', bass-thumping dancefloor cut, which is bound to ellicit either a chuckle or a shudder from longtime fans of the band.

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